Collection: World War I
WWI was the major event of the twentieth century that brought cigarette use to the forefront of tobacco use. Before WWI there were many popular anti-tobacco movements led by progressive religious organizations such as National Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) who advocated for policies banning tobacco sales1. Cigarette prohibition laws were even passed in several states such as Indiana, Nebraska, and Idaho1. This was all changed with the advent of WWI1.
Fighting in WWI was static, with soldiers switching between long waiting periods to battling through day-long artillery barrages in trenches filled with death and carnage2. For fighting soldiers smoking became a coping mechanism to handle both times of stress and boredom2. Leaders such as General John Pershing saw cigarettes as necessary to troop morale with Pershing claiming that the importance of tobacco to the war was equal to that of bullets2.
Pipe smoking had been more popular at the onset of the war as it was seen as more masculine with many armies even rationing loose-leaf pipe tobacco3. However, pipes were easily broken during battle and loose-leaf tobacco near impossible to keep dry in the trenches3. Thus, the convenient transportable design of the pocket cigarette made it the signature tobacco product of WWI soldiers3.
The American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) were at first supplied with cigarettes through canteens2. Canteens were stations that sold non-rationed goods and were manned by civilian organizations2. Cigarette companies soon developed ads in both newspapers and magazines to convince soldiers to buy their brand.1 Such advertisements often included patriotic themes to suit wartime customers1. These include portraying cigarette brands as strengthening bond between Allied troops, individual soldiers, and their families and sweethearts back home.
It was General March who would put canteens back under army control and create the official policy of rationing soldiers four ready-made cigarettes per day2. This ration would increase over time and by the Second World War soldiers had access to 12 to 28 army-provided cigarettes per day2. As men returned from army service once the Great War was over they brought their smoking habit with them1. The anti-tobacco movement lost following with the return of these veterans who were known to argue, “If cigaret[te]s were good enough for us while we were fighting in France, why aren’t they good enough for us in our own homes?”1 This initial popularity of the cigarette with the WWI generation would continue throughout the decades, further catalyzed during WWII before culminating into the smoking epidemics of the 1950s and 60s1.
2. Bius, Joel. “The Damn Y Man in WWI: Service, Perception, and Cigarettes.” The YMCA at War: Collaboration and Conflict during the World Wars, Lexington Books 2018.